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CV of Failures [pdf] (princeton.edu)
451 points by irenetrampoline on Apr 27, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 87 comments

Ha, this reminds me of my own track record in applying for jobs...

I must have possibly the widest number of rejections by many of the most prestigious companies, NGOs and government institutions in the world.

Prestigious names like Google, Apple, Facebook, McKinsey, Stripe, The Guardian, BBC, UN, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Shell, Statoil, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, US Embassy London, UK Labour Party, UK Foreign Office, Stroz Freidberg, Billiter, Mandiant, Portland PR, KPMG, Deloitte - that's just a sample!

After awhile I decided I was just better off setting up my own company - and haven't looked back since. Now some of them work with and have to hire my company instead. :)

If anyone feels bored and wants to add your name to such an illustrious list, drop me an email with a job description, I'll make a fake application and you too can reject with the stars... :)

That's quite a list! I can't really compete at all, apart from to say that I too was rejected by Deloitte, in somewhat amusing circumstances - having negotiated the necessary hoops to get to a final interview, the very nice lady interviewing me asked what should, really, have been a very simple question: "Why do you want to become an accountant?" Sadly some sort of terrible realisation hit me at this point and I froze, looked at her in horror, paused for an eternity before finally answering, "Well, I've always liked numbers!" She looked baffled. I started laughing. She started laughing too (probably, in retrospect, nervously). That was the end of my fledgling career as an accountant.

What is the appropriate answer, for the aspiring accountants among us?

Something like...

"Accounting is the language of business. Accurate, precise, and timely financial information is vital to the success of any business."

Except that doesn't really describe one's motivations for becoming an accountant.

That and the fact that it sounds good, makes it perfect

"all the best white collar criminals have a good knowledge of accounting!" Won't cut it either.

There are many occasions where the appropriate answer to a question does not accurately answer it.

I love money

and Panama.

And a man, a plan, a canal


"Let's take a hypothetical view and say, in 7 to 10 years, when I make partner, there might be an opportunity for me to work on an account - a company with an unusual structure, with a novel, ground-breaking business, and unorthodox cashflows arrangements and asset valuations, and as an accountant I am going to write the story to highlight the strengths of the business while being fully cognizant of the risks, and the investors, the stakeholders, business management will appreciate the effort and hard-thinking we put in to make the story relevant and whole. And I want that to happen in my life.

but until that time, I know I have to put in the punishing work of auditing [or whatever dept you are applying to]. And I may not find it very enjoyable. Yet if I never take the first step, that end goal I just spoke about will never materialize."

you can talk about whatever is cool at that time. nowadays accounting for tech companies is all the rage and the methods for accounting for manufacturing or retail companies are not very relevant. back when I was just wrapping up my degree the Kraft-Nestle merger was the talk of the town.

Also don't take my suggestion too seriously - I am not an accountant.

I wouldn't bother with a direct answer to that question.

How about "it's a stable and respectable profession"? Sounds like a very reasonable motivation.

It is, and yet I have a feeling that is not the answer they are looking for.

That shows IMO that the values embodied by today's corporations (well at least by their HR departments) are out of whack. I'm hoping the companies will abandon their current bullshit "passion" view of employment, and will start valuing honest hard work. I'm affraid that's in conflict with the whole current American mythos though.

It makes a certain kind of sense. Given one guy who wants a steady paycheck and another guy who's wild about spreadsheets and would do corporate accounting for free (let's assume this guy exists) the latter is probably more likely to stick around longer. Anyway, having to give disingenuous answers in interviews isn't really the problem, IMO.

> would do corporate accounting for free (let's assume this guy exists)

The problem is that it's estabilished as the new norm. Instead of accepting that maybe 0.1% accountants are passionate about their job and thus getting hiring like that is just a super-lucky coincidence, they actively seek them, forcing people to pretend about their passion for the job.

As a consequence, the companies lose candidates who would make excellent accountants, but are not able or not willing to lie during the interview. Another consequence is that people are generally unhappy to work in a place built on bullshit.

On the one hand, that's a bizarre reason to block an applicant.

On the other hand, if a trivial setback is enough to make you give up the career, better to get it early.

What was the terrible realisation? That you don't want to become an accountant?

Yeah. I applied for Deloitte because a big-4 accountancy firm ticked the right sort of boxes for someone who'd been to a good school, a good university, got good grades, and was looking for a reasonably prestigious job with decent perks (and had no real idea what they wanted to do). I'm not sure the reality of having to spend the next 30 years going into an office and scheming around Sarbanes-Oxley had really occurred to me right until she asked that question.

I should note I have absolutely nothing against accountants!

As someone who had a similar (but less climactic) realization, this is amazing.

How does Umbrella compare to EFF's SSD content: https://ssd.eff.org/en

(And yeah, likely have more rejections, but I automated generating custom resumes, submissions, etc. for some research on how resumes work.)

Clever idea to automate the process!

Umbrella actually uses some of the awesome EFF SSD content for some of our digital security stuff. Clearly we've broken a lot of stuff down to make it work in an app. Probably the major big difference is that Umbrella has a huge amount of stuff on physical and operational security. Along with psychosocial issues like dealing with PTSD in the field.

Our content (like EFF SSD) is CC so available here: https://github.com/securityfirst/Umbrella_content

Any particular findings you'd like to share?

I'm directly interested as I'm putting together my first resume.

Every applicant and receiver is different.

Point of a resume is to get an invite for an interview.

Generally speaking that you'll get/create the most value by knowing as much as possible about the job, company, staff, etc. - and if possible speaking with the hiring manager before providing a resume; it's rare that a company won't want a resume at all. By delaying handing over a resume though, you have the most opportunity to match it to their expectations.

Main key is to realize how important your first jobs are to your future success and put a lot of effort into finding the best opportunities possible.

Good luck!

This reminds me a lot of Facebook (and other social media), where people put up a fake persona, only show their best side etc. The effect that this must have on people growing up with social media as a major part of their lives while they develop intuition about the world and other people will have very interesting results I think.

I know that life before social media wasn't much different, in that people still gossiped, bragged about their accomplishments and so on. But social media amplifies these traits enormously and presents them to you daily in a concise list of why everyone is doing better than you.

I was just thinking the same thing. It's so easy to look at someone else's public, social media persona and forget about the struggles that they've faced as well. There's immense pressure to show a face of complete perfection, even if that's not the reality.

I can imagine it being incredibly freeing to drop that pretense, both for others and oneself.

It's the main reason I refuse to take part in the whole 'social' media circus. Many people have called me strange and anti-social and whatnot, but one look at my girlfriend's timeline every now and I feel proven right again.

If I ever have children I'll make sure to teach them from the moment they are old enough to understand that social media is just posturing, self-promotion and narcissism, and in no way representative of 'real' people or 'real' lives. I wouldn't mind if they would use it, as long as it's pretty damn clear that the image other people paint of themselves is not something to aspire for.

Makes me think of this, Facebook vs reality


social media + developer ego = unreachable utopia.

The first company where I started developer, the developer egos I had to deal with were consistent with the egos of outside sales people. Most of them were quite active on social media touting the latest release of this iphone game, or this huge website they got done in three days. I only found out later that while most were true, there was a definite bending of reality in terms of what they actually did and how long it actually took.

After I left the company were the developers , I purged all my social media, keep Twitter as a news feed and only followed people who I had a common interest in and were actually inspiring to me. It completely changed my perspective on what people say they do and what they actually do.

It makes a big difference when you listen to the people who are actually humble in what they do compared to those who are only out for the retweets or excited looks from other developers.

One of my favourite Twitter people to follow is Remy Sharp, he tweets all the dumb stuff he does (he's a developer btw). All the mistakes he makes are there alongside the great things he achieves from day-to-day. It's inspiring to see someone much better at development than I am using twitter to learn, err, clarify and sort.

TV has been doing the same thing to us for a long time, you can't turn it on for more than five minutes before you see how the other half lives and how miserable your life is in comparison.

The main difference being hat before social media you probably had direct contact with those people on your friends list, because you either worked with them or hung out with them. That direct contact allows people to filter the bragging from the reality much more easily.

I've learned much more from my failures than my successes. Painful leaning but learning none-the-less. Once bid a SW development project at about $500,000 USD. Should have been more like $1,000,000. Negotiated with client to split the difference. My company did not make a profit that year but the client got version one of a system that went on to save them >$25,000,000 a year one year later and we got a long term client. I think we did 5 versions of that system for them.

Learned how to read requirements and put in fudge factors on budget estimates.

Glad I'm not in that business anymore.

I've always tried to think of a way that people could include offers they got but didn't take on their resumes. Too often, people take jobs for the brand sparkle in the hopes that it'll up their employability in lieu of working on stuff they actually want. So if you ended up with an offer from Google or whatever but didn't take it, it might be cool to share that to still get the stamp-on-your-forehead effect.

P.S. I hate how things work.

What's the point? If you didn't take that job, presumably you got something better instead, and that's on your resume.

Better is, unfortunately, relative. A more interesting, fulfilling job for you might not have a strong enough brand to be a resume boost, whereas a job at a more visible company, while potentially less interesting, might be great social proof.

Reminds me of that saying: the master has failed more times than the beginner has tried. Fear of failure is a real thing that I and many others have, which is tragic because I think a truly rewarding life requires taking risks.

I didn't know the saying but I like it a lot. I will add that once you fail you no longer fear failing.

Reminds me of the Nike Michael Jordan "Failure" commercial, in which he lists all the things he failed at in basketball:


You failed to link to the original commercial and instead linked to a remake :)

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45mMioJ5szc Uploaded on Aug 25, 2006)

Love this part:


2016 This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work"

Perhaps this is issue of perception. Less of a failure, more of an unwanted success.

That is uplifting. I recently got two conference papers rejected, and I was a bit downcast about it. It's nice to be reminded that individual failures don't tell you much about long-term success.

I've given up worrying about conference paper reviewers. The last paper I submitted got a strong accept from one, and a reject from the other (the overall decision was accept). Interestingly the reasons for accept/reject were almost exactly the same - the stuff one guy liked, the other guy hated. It's completely luck of the draw, so don't be disheartened.

In any case, I pick conferences largely based on their location (if I can get paid to go) rather than their academic merit. That's what journals are for!

If you need some morale boosting, come talk to me about conference paper rejections (I can't speak publicly of this). I can tell you of at least three separate best paper award winning papers at the absolute top conferences where the drafts spent 1+ years in various rejection bins.

Ah, conference papers.. I had my share of rejections, got a paper rejected in 4/5 conferences, but in the end it got accepted in a good-enough conference!

In retrospective, I think every single paper I wrote was rejected at least once, but I always read carefully the reviews to try to improve them. For what I can remember, many reviews were about little stupid things which I just interpreted as the reviewer "didn't like it".

Keep on going, but know when to quit. At least two papers I wrote didn't got anywhere and I had to throw them out the window..

> Meta-Failures > 2016 This darn CV of Failures has received way more attention than my entire body of academic work

Poor guy

This is clearly more interesting. Academic papers === yawn.

Not to brag, but I have definitely failed wayyyyyy more than that.

My thoughts exactly.

me too

I love the idea behind this but it is telling that he is legitimately successful when his actual vita has seven pages, not two, and still features three world-class Universities.

the point is that if you only look at his CV, you see those 7 pages and 3 world-class universities. it doesn't show how many times he's been rejected - but this failure CV does.

I think it is telling that, though this guy is obviously more successful than I, he also have failed far more than I. Makes me think I need to put myself out there WAY harder.

I think that's the most notable trait I've come to consistently see in the successful - the willingness to try, and the insistence on continuing to try after failure.

Link to his CV? never heard of the guy and his name isn't on my clipboard to search

Wow! PhD in Economics and Neurobiology. Interesting combination.

This is interesting ! .. I find this uplifting and I am not talking personally uplifting but I respect the person who made the CV more . A failure CV actually tells what all a person really cares about and has tried . Do you people feel it would be a good idea to ask people their failure CVs during hiring process ?

This great, for my daughter who reaches high and fails sometimes, she can appreciate she is not alone! She only hears about others successes, this provides balance.

When I graduated from college, I applied to every company on the Forbes 500.... twice. Heard back from three of them.

This is a very good idea. As a soon-to-be grad student, the accomplishments of top-tier professors seem almost unattainable. When I get to see the failures of such a person, it gives me more confidence in my abilities, and reinforces the fact that no one is always successful.

From G+, a related concept:

Lovely discussion here with Stuart Firestein who just spent some time with philosophers of Science. It's long but quite on point although more biological than economic, it still addresses structural issues as well as replicability. http://www.microbe.tv/twiv/twiv-385/ Enjoy. It's +Vincent Racaniello.

The audio is long, the relevant part starts about 30 minutes in. That said, I recommend the whole bit, though the first 10-20 minutes are a bit rambly.

h/t Bob Calder​ on G+

The G+ thread on which I posted this had a comment to the effect of "but he's a senior tenured academic, he can afford to do this", to which I say, "precisely, and he has".

Brings to mind another item I'd come across recently, regarding promoting open discussion in groups:

1. Let the junior member(s) speak first. They can venture into topics others won't.

2. Senior members, speaking later, can establish cultural norms by, say, giving credit and credence to earlier comments, and by admitting their own errors and mistakes (as here).

The cultural message is hugely powerful.

Perhaps Johannes Haushofer will become more famous for his primary academic works because of this document that would not have occurred otherwise. Would it not then be one of his greatest successes that should not belong in the document anymore?

That CV failed to put a phone, or email to contact him back.

No wonder he gets no replies.. :-)

Something like this is only interesting within a certain range. If he'd been too successful, nobody would want to read it because it would come off as even more of a humblebrag than it already does just by virtue of the context of even qualifying for awards from Ivy League schools. But at the same time, if this were From someone at "Podunk State", as KKKKkkkk1 put it, to some controversy elsewhere in this post, it likely would not have made it to HN, even if someone from Podunk was the first to popularize this model.

I think he is missed out on his failures on a personal section of his CV. Let me kick start it from my side.

I failed at

* getting onto the football at my school, even I tried very hard.

* getting a date to my high school dance.

* starting a family before I was 35.


Shit. That last one. I turn 35 in three months. I better hurry.

This guy's failures didn't cost anybody any money (not getting grants doesn't count, that's like saying you cost people money by buying a lottery ticket and not winning).

Anyone who's worked for a failed startup (like moi) has cost people money, sometimes some serious dough. And it really sucks when you know you've cost people money, even if that's part of the investor process.

Ergo, this isn't a very compelling list of failures to me. Good idea, though.

This pales in comparison to my list of job rejections.

I'm practicing mindfulness (in the Kabat-Zinn sense), and an interesting and deeply moving exercise for me was to realize my feelings and thoughts that appear on reading a document like this. Which are, for the most part, compassion and admiration of the extreme courage and honesty that it takes to publicize something like this.

You learn more from failures. Being part of a big success can mean nothing more than gettin' lucky. People are dumb. The problem is it is near impossible to attribute the failures to specific traits.

I'm starting to wonder what does a good resume look like? What does your guys' resume look like? Is there a place where people can review your CV for feedback?

I don't know if mine can be considered a "good resume" but I've lost considerable time reading things on the web and polishing it.

I tried to convey an image of simplicity and minimalism, which are things I appreciate when developing, and it has landed me so far a job in a local startup and some interviews for remote positions in several countries (USA, Italy, France, UK, Spain, Germany,..).

Here it is: http://joaoventura.net/static/files/resume.pdf

Thanks for sharing!

Wow did I need to read this today. Excellent choice of post.

Rudyard Kipling: "if you can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same".

Those who try will sometimes fail, and those who never fail are probably not trying.

Mine would be like 50 pages.

To get a job in globalization you need to be a highly skilled wage slave

When you can talk candidly about your failures, you've found security.


I was hoping that this would be a collection of ideas that failed.

True. I was also looking forward for ideas that failed and what the OP learned from it. That would have been an interesting read too.

Yeah, he likes to rub it in apparently. Imagine a Professor at Podunk State College reading this. Even the list of prizes this dude didn't get is getting more attention than my lifetime of research accomplishments. American academia has a winner-takes-all culture that loves to brag how meritocratic it is, and unlike business, it never gets called for it.

Please don't be so uncharitable in HN comments. Finding a maximally cynical interpretation may be briefly gratifying, but it damages the culture we're trying for here.

A less uncharitable comment might have included more about your own experiences and feelings and omitted the strong claim about someone else's motivations.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11584417 and marked it off-topic.

I really don't think that was his intentions. But you point still stands. The FailCV of all the people that did not get his job would also be great to look at and compare to.

Also, notice the FailCVs of other people that he links to. Some of those FailCvs (or the sections of them) are very very short. Likely that is due to not wanting to spend time on something that is painful like this, or that this just takes too much time for a side project. Still, are the FailCVs of successful people shorter in general, accounting for their successes? (IE you don't apply for as many jobs when you have one). Are the successful actually more successful when controlling for the stochastic nature of awards?

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